Writing A Haibun

I belong to a Poet’s Club (as we have chosen to call ourselves, and which I have written about here before.) Each time we meet, the host-poet hands out a writing assignment for the next time; our most recent assignment was a haibun.

Haibun is traditionally a prose/haiku set having to do with travel. American haibuns have stretched that tradition. As Kimiko Hahn explains in a column for poems out LOUD: “Present tense, brevity in prose, objective detachment and implication are common characteristics of modern haibun in English but no characteristic is an inviolable rule.” (http://poemsoutloud.net/columns/archive/haibun_hybrid/

My reentry blog after several months of silence is an attempt to combine several different layers into the form.

Night Travels and the Desert Poet

Yes, I’m sleepwalking while awake so I’ll remember what I see. I undo the lock, lift up the clear pane, and hoist myself in through the open window. I’m not a prowler or a thief, so I simply stand there in the dark while my eyes adjust. I can already make out a book by the desert poet, open on a bedside table. A man is asleep in the bed beside it; his left arm is extended, the hand relaxed and open so his index finger just grazes the page (the poem) where a truck hauling used generators pulls into a motel parking lot, causing the windowpanes in that stanza to vibrate. The sleeper doesn’t hear this of course, and it’s hard to know if his finger can translate words on the page into messages his dreaming brain will understand. A tall brass lamp beside his bed has a blue-green shade that must, when it’s switched on, cast a light that shimmers like the water in an unpolluted mountain lake. I imagine it now, lapping the sleeper as he sits in bed reading: It’s midnight. He props himself up with an extra pillow and opens the desert poet’s book; the rumpled green quilt on the bed is drawn around him as he stops to savor words like “dharma” and “hamstrung” and “multitudinous”; he lingers over many passages in the surrounding poetic code. As I said, I’m not a thief, so I won’t pry open the sleeper’s thoughts—won’t ask how it feels to travel through a desert washed in light like blue-green water—if the desert poet’s heat has set fire to some ideas—if they’re boiling inside!—if his cup runneth over and his heartbeat measures out equal parts of sorrow and jubilation. Instead I gaze slowly around again, trying to take it all in—I’m aiming here for a generosity of looking. This time I see a pair of glasses, a lace cloth on the dresser—reticella—a tear in one corner, as if something sharp had caught in a loop and ripped it there. I notice the tiny bottle of perfume, and a hand mirror beside a black and white photo in a silver frame—the not-so surprising fact that the woman pictured there looks strangely like the daytime me. I touch nothing, except with memory’s thumb. I climb silently back through the still-open window to the other side. I leave the sleeper inside to lock things up, to pull the pane shut again, if he must.

travel weary night
sleeps—cloud bed, open window
someone’s eye climbs in

(Have I written a haibun? Only the Poet’s Club–and maybe the Night Traveler– knows….)


Filed under: Poetics, Prose, Susan Kelly-DeWitt